Making people uncomfortable...


I was reading an article about the smartest woman in the world (she doesn't subscribe to IQ theory, herself) and how, one day, while answering a question about a puzzle she drew inordinate amounts of ire from people who thought she was an imbecile, and were more than happy to point this out to her.

The slant of the article is that she was being unfairly harassed because she was a woman, but there are famous cases in history of men being subjected to the same sort of treatment.

Take, for example, Galileo, who spent most of the last decade of his life under house arrest because he dared to suggest the Earth and all other planets in our solar system travelled around the sun, instead of the universe travelling around the Earth.

Or Ignaz Semmelweis who was committed to an asylum, where he died, because he argued that surgeons had unseeable bugs on their hands, and should wash their hands before doing surgery.

These people all have one thing in common, and that was that their understanding of reality went against contemporary common sense. They made people uncomfortable.

Making people uncomfortable and challenging common sense did not, however, make them wrong. They were ahead of their time (though, seriously in Marilyn von Savant's case, the answer she proposed was contemporarily provable, if not common sense.

Making people uncomfortable, when you are not being rude, stating a different understanding of the world, is not about you. It is about the other person feeling challenged, questioning what they know, feeling their world tilt and thus wanting to defend themselves.

That defence can be ugly, and it can become a personal attack very quickly, because you are challenging their often unquestioned assumptions.

Humans like to believe the majority knows best. A consensus is often equated with fact in the absence of any attempt of clear thinking. Clear thinking takes effort and most humans conserve their energy as much as possible and are therefore willing to put their trust in the consensus.

Challenging a consensus does not put the burden of proof on the challenger, but on the consensus. It's a good thing to remember when you feel that you are being squeezed from all sides to simply conform in order to stop making other people feel uncomfortable.